Picnic on Paradise by Joanna Russ

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The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Picnic on Paradise was Joanna Russ’s first novel and is probably her most accessible. It takes place on the resort planet Paradise, a planet of extreme beauty but no practical use. When Paradise becomes involved in a commercial war, Alyx, an agent of the Trans-Temporal Authority, is brought from ancient Greece to guide eight tourists to a neutral base. The party is given food, supplies, and weapons for the 240-kilometer hike through snowy mountains. To Alyx, who has lived through famine and plague, the trip sounds easy: There are no predatory animals, the distance is not great, the mountains are not high or steep, and the enemy has no reason to care about them. It sounds like a picnic.

The tourists will not find it so easy. In their world, people expect to be comfortable. They do not walk long distances, they can replace defective or unattractive body parts, and they have drugs to keep them joyful. The biggest problem Alyx faces is that the group is being sent out without many of the drugs the tourists are accustomed to having. The tourists therefore will encounter discomfort, danger, and real emotion for the first time.

The party includes Iris, a thirty-six-year-old adolescent; her mother Maudey, withdrawing from rejuvenating drugs; two nuns of the ancient church of consciousness and the All; Raydos, an artist; Gavrily, an important and influential man; Gannon, an amateur explorer; and the Machine, a rebel who wears high-tech headphones to shut out stimuli from outside and who has shut off all feeling inside. Although she knows nothing of the food, the drugs, the technology, or the terrain involved in the trip, Alyx is well equipped to lead. She is intelligent, strong, and a good shot with a crossbow or a thrown knife. She does not hesitate to use force—a slap, a kick in the groin, a weapon—to control humans and androids alike. She is in charge.

For the first sixteen days, the hike is uneventful. Alyx keeps the party moving, allowing only short rests and rationing food. At night the travelers huddle together in the snow for warmth, and Alyx and the men keep watch. The tourists complain mildly but are mostly unconcerned. When they reach their destination, Base B, they discover that it has been destroyed. They must go...

(The entire section is 580 words.)